Thursday, February 2, 2012

Religion bashing…

Last week, one of y’all showed me a youtube video that’s been making noise recently. I’d seen it on many a facebook friends’ pages, but hadn’t yet watched the clip. Titled “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus,” if you have a few extra minutes, check it out.

Here, though, is a recap. It’s a four-minute monologue from a young adult believer, apparently well schooled in slam poetry and evangelical atonement theology. About the former, slam poetry is a spoken-word art form resembling hip-hop without music. The performer passionately and rhythmically performs an original work of poetry, mixing urban lingo and personal observation with linguistic dexterity and bravado. As modern art goes, I’m a big fan.

Regarding evangelical atonement theology, I’m not as sympathetic. In short, this belief system claims that Jesus’ blood sacrifice was the perfect way of satisfying God’s righteous wrath. And only by accepting this fact, then working to convince others, can people avoid the dark destiny of Hell. You probably know I’m none-too-keen on such assumptions; Jesus’ death speaks to me, rather, of the lengths God will go to show us how much God loves us. Thus, I assume God opens doors to grace through pathways outside Christian faith, though I find following Jesus most satisfying, personally.

Nevertheless, in the afore-mentioned video, the artist claims fervently his life’s been changed by Jesus. And given that I’ve witnessed that happen to many people- myself included- I say, despite our theological disagreements, “Right on, friend. Preach!” Another claim he makes is something I’ve also encountered before, namely that sometimes there’s a difference between ‘religion’ and ‘faith.’

Now, I wouldn’t take that opposition too far. Oftentimes, I find the distinction people make between the two rather forced. Most of ‘religious’ people I know are faithful, good, authentic believers, who participate in church because they want to, not from blind obligation or delusion. The ‘religion’ this guy eviscerates, rather, is way of “believing” that prizes ritual over passion, tradition before the Spirit, safe action over bold commitment, comfort instead of mission. And he’s right that some churches or Christians seem overly committed to a status quo that’s willing to forget the needs of the poor and marginalized so we can feel good while praying. If, indeed, that’s what it means to be ‘religious,’ I want no part of it. Jesus, after all, undertook great measures to proclaim God’s love for everybody. “Whatsoever you do unto these, my children- even the least…” and all that jazz.

So if the slam poet toned down his attacks on religious people, complicated the picture slightly, he and I would have a good conversation. I, too, pray Plymouth Creekers will make faith without works anathema to their self-identity. I, too, hope our worship services aren’t empty words and vapid murmurings, but earnest efforts to lay our entire, broken, beloved selves before the Lord of Lords, seeking desperately to be uplifted, empowered and sent forth. I, too, imagine gatherings of believers with the temerity, the inspiration to expect God will keep doing new things. In our lives, through our lives, because we’ve decided to be together; a community shining bright as a beacon of Christ’s table, open to all, serving all.

So the reason I avoiding condemning ‘religion’, per say, is because I believe we’re all in this for the long haul. History shows that “God’s Kingdom come on earth” isn’t something that will happen next week. It’s an ongoing dream manifesting itself in many ways, across many cultures, through the love of many families and faithful friends. Indeed, it’s so hard to accomplish we’ll never make it on our own. We need companions for the journey; we need each other! The wisdom of our forbearers, the energy and nerve of our youth. And without a church to harness that, receive it, direct it in mission together, our hopes for a better future will likely flicker and fade.

Therefore, may we be religious, not in the stale, but enduring sense: a gathering of disciples inspired and inspiring, by each other, to each other, for the sake of God’s amazing grace. That, my friends, would produce a message worth filming.

Grace and Peace,


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